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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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07/03/2004 Archived Entry: "Trek book review: Strange New Worlds"



Star Trek: Strange New Worlds VII

Edited by Dean Wesley Smith
Published by Pocket Books
304 pages; $14.95
ISBN: 074348780X

Reviewed by Laurel Sutton

Summary: Fanfic becomes profic. Again.

Review: What's the difference between fanfic and profic, anyway? Is it just that you get paid for one and not the other? It can't be the quality of the writing; I've read lots of horrible profic and lots of incredible fanfic. It must be the blessing of John Ordover, who has long been in charge of the SNW collections: he raiseth his hand and behold! Fanfic is transubstantiated into profic! And Paramount owns the rights to it, throughout the universe and in perpetuity!

That, to me, is the most offensive thing about the SNW contests: all entries that's entries mind you, not just the winners become the property of Paraborg. In my mind, this translates into them stealing your ideas for use in future profic novels. Am I paranoid? I have advised friends against sending in entries to SNW because of this.

Anyway, there are enough people who want to be published and are willing to give up ownership to keep this part of the franchise going. Not having read a volume of this stuff since it was called "The New Voyages" and edited by those two fun-loving slashy gals, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, I was interested to see that there were stories from all the series, including Enterprise. I guess it was a good idea at the time, but it turned out to mean that they had to publish something for every series, no matter the quality. So, here's the scorecard:

TOS: 7 stories, most of them very good. The best one is about Elaan of Troyius, called "Obligations Discharged". I take issue with the first story, "A Test of Character", which gives us a version of how Kirk cheated on the Kobayashi Maru. It's like this:

Kirk: Damn, I've taken this test twice and failed. Me! I know, I'll sneak in when no one's here and change the programming with an old Yanni CD. Wonder where Security is?
[Next day he beats the test]
Admiral: KIRK! IN MY OFFICE NOW!
[Kirk stands at attention, smirking]
Admiral: Why did you do it, cadet? You know I could throw you out for this.
Kirk: Risk is our business. And I don't like to lose.
Admiral: You bet. One hundred pushups, and I'll see you in class tomorrow.

My point is that this story treats a very important event in Kirk's life rather shallowly. I have read better fanfic versions, and I'll be happy to point you to them if you email me. Moving along:

TNG: 6 stories, one of which wins the Grand Prize. There's way too much crossover stuff here, and a story about Harriman? Are we not grasping at straws? I did like the one about Captain Bateman of the Bozeman (played by Kelsey Grammer).

DS9: Two stories, both about Quark. Sigh.

Voyager: All 4 of these stories suck. Sorry, had to say it. One of them is based on the last ep, which I have on tape and never watched (although I have heard about the Pythonesque dismemberment of the Borg Queen), and so it made no sense to me at all.

Enterprise: 1 story and it was OK, I guess. I find it hard to believe that caffeine is the strongest stimulant on the Enterprise.

There is one more section, called "Speculations", which has 3 stories that are much better. The best one is about Horta! Yay! Go Horta! It name-checks every minor character ever, seemingly. Why aren't there more Horta stories? We even get Horta vs. Armus, the Skin of Evil what killed Tasha Yar way back when! I'd buy a book that was nothing but Horta stories, believe me. Horta and Vorta. Now there's a snappy combination. That Jeffrey Combs is something to look at. More Weyoun fic!

Well, I seem to have strayed from the book a bit no matter. They'll keep pumping out these books as long as there are fic writers, which means forever. One suggestion to Paramount: Could you please include an appendix with these suckers that lists all the references? I think it is too much to ask of your readers that they know every character and every plot line in every series. Some of us do have lives outside of Trek, you know.

Replies: 3 comments

Horta and Vorta. Now there's a snappy combination. That Jeffrey Combs is something to look at. More Weyoun fic! Wheee! I second that!

Some of us do have lives outside of Trek, you know. ShhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHH!

Great review in the best revessay tradition. I salute you, L.

Posted by Ginger Mayerson @ 07/04/2004 10:24 AM PST

Fanfic becomes profic? You mean, you can get paid for doing what you love to do? But that's what I've been trying to do for years by writing fanfic! I thought I was rehearsing for the day when I'd write a "real" Star Trek novel! And all this time, I could have broken through by submitting to SNW? GR-R-R-R!
Hell hath no fury like a disillusioned Star Trek fan!

Just for that, I'm going to keep on writing fanfic and thumbing my nose at the suits at Paramount/Viacom. Why should they get fat off my labor?

Posted by Ida Vega-Landow @ 07/21/2004 01:24 PM PST

Interestingly enough, I first heard about the Strange New Worlds competition when someone very much like you spammed every fanfic venue they could find. They warned that the Paramount legal department was planning to sue all fanfic writers for copyright infringement. Due to little known publishing laws, they could seize any property you owned. Their underhanded plan for developing a database of fanfic writers was to stage a fake "contest" to lure us all into submitting stories -- evidence of our crime -- with our names and addresses.

In the first place, there is no such law giving owners of copyrights the power to seize property. In the second place, as long as you are not trying to make a profit from your writing, or getting money by passing yourself off as the official representative of the people who own Star Trek, nobody cares.

And as for people stealing ideas: why? What makes a story is not the idea. The idea is five, maybe ten, percent of the story. (Story idea: Girl meets boy, they think they hate each other, they conflict, realize they love each other but must struggle to overcome problems, eventually succeed. How big is the romance section at the used book store? Every novel there is based on the same idea. How the idea is presented makes the difference.) Everyone has hundreds, even thousands of great ideas for stories. If you're halfway aware of your surroundings it's impossible not to.

That phrase I used in the second paragraph, "people who own Star Trek," is important. Every bit of Star Trek fiction is owned by Paramount. Every novel, every short story, every movie. A "real" Star Trek novelist is paid a flat fee for her writing; she retains no legal right to anything she has written. That includes the original proposal, the sales pitch the writer makes to be awarded the contract to write the novel. There's nothing nefarious about everything submitted being the property of Paramount. When you are writing stories using intellectual property owned by another, that's how the business works.

Another aspect of using intellectual property owned by another is that you have to play by their rules. Nothing you write can contradict what is established on screen. No graphic sex; no graphic violence. A key element of your story must be something recognizably Star Trek, whether it's a Borg on Risa, a redshirt on an away mission, or a wino on the streets of "The City on the Edge of Forever."

In fanfic there are no rules. You can write about Kirk and Spock both falling madly in love with you. You can kill off Seven of Nine and bring back Kes. You can explore Worf and Riker's secret love affair, have Kira break up the O'Brien's marriage and reveal that Hoshi is the Go'ould Isis.

I have heard it argued that the rules are restrictive and it's more fun to write without them. To me --paraphrasing Robert Frost -- ignoring the rules is like playing tennis without a net. Sure, it's easier, there's less pressure to conform to objective standards, but is it as challenging, as satisfying? Have you accomplished as much? If it is, wonderful; write fanfic. For me it is not. When I learned there was a higher standard to which I could aspire, I strove to reach it.

I was too late to get a story in to that first contest. I tried every year after that. In all, between SNW2 and SNW7, I submitted thirty-six stories. In the process I became a better writer: my stories tauter and more focused; my use of language more sure and accurate. I also became more professional in my attitude, learning what I could from other writers, studying stories to see what techniques the author used to tell their tale effectively, and learning to take and use the insights -- and criticisms -- of others.

In its first year, two thousand stories were submitted to Strange New Worlds. In the years since, the average has been closer to four thousand a year. Each year's anthology has up to twenty-three stories in it; the top three prize winners and up to twenty runners-up. Some years there have been as few as nineteen stories in the anthology because -- out of the thousands submitted -- there were not twenty-three stories worthy to make the cut.

And what sort of stories do get in? "Isolation Ward 4" in SNW4 was nominated -- though it didn't make the final ballot -- for a Nebula award. "Whatever You Do, Don't Read This Story" in SNW3 tells with powerful imagery one of the most original ideas in fiction. Though every story will not appeal to every reader, in every volume there have been gems of Trek writing; fresh and original voices. It's not at all surprising that writers like Dayton Ward and Ilsa Bick who began in Strange New Worlds have gone on to write some of the best novels in Trek.

Due to international tax laws, the contest is limited to those living in the United States and Canada. (And due to Canadian language laws, those living in Quebec are ineligible since the book is not published in French.) If you are eligible, if you love to write, and if you're willing to be professional about mastering your craft and developing as a storyteller, and most of all if you want to write Star Trek -- I gotta tell you the best way to get into this business is Strange New Worlds.

Submissions for this year's anthology must be delivered to Pocket Books in New York no later than 5:00 PM eastern time, Friday, October 1, 2004. Go to the Star Trek area at www.simonsays.com or the Book Database area of www.psiphi.org for complete rules. Better yet, read the books. Not only are they full of great stories, the rules are printed in the back.

-- KeVin

Posted by Kevin Killiany @ 08/03/2004 08:45 PM PST

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